I feel I’ve tried and fallen short in elucidating the core of the matter as regards solitary confinement. When I watched The Gray Box, by freelance journalist Susan Greene and DAX Films, I knew it was something I had to share.

The Gray Box speaks as I never could; it has voices of experience. You’ll be awed by the psychological terror they describe and by the activities isolated prisoners employ to remain sane.

Of all the many battles at hand for prison reformers, it is felt that the campaign against the over-use of solitary confinement in American prisons is an issue that currently resonates enough with the public to effect some policy change.

The anti-Solitary bloc has simplified its message saying that solitary confinement does permanent damage to the mind of he or she imprisoned; a view backed up by medical science.

Publics are also more educated about isolation – and the manipulation/interrogation techniques associated with it – because Guantanamo prison has been regularly discussed in the media for over a decade.

Essentially, the knowledge that solitary destroys people is knowledge that anyone on the political spectrum can understand and oppose. From the hardcore secular ACLU to coalitions of churches, the voices in opposition to solitary confinement are wide and varied. Even so, we do still see some prisons such as Rikers Island which are bucking the trend and pushing for the to use of more solitary confinement.

Furthermore, the few actions of what we might refer to as prisoner resistance include calls to curtail the use of solitary confinement. (This is something Isaac Ontiveros covered when we discussed the California hunger strike).

Solitary confinement is not an issue I feel I’ve adequately discussed here on the blog. I’ve brought up it’s historical genesis; I’ve discussed isolation in and out of prisons; and I’ve referred you to stories about infamous U.S. prisoners such as Robert King and Leonard Peltier who served and are serving time in isolation.

Truly, if you want to know about the abusive use of solitary confinement in US prison’s follow James Ridgeway’s vital journalism at Solitary Watch.

Ridgeway, a voice you can rely on, says about the film and of Greene’s article The Gray Box: An Investigative Look at Solitary Confinement:

This is one of the most comprehensive articles ever written about solitary confinement in the United States, and is particularly noteworthy for including the voices of prisoners, obtained through correspondence with those buried in isolation. It is also passionate and personal.


Susan Greene is a former-columnist at the Denver Post who often wrote about the widespread use of solitary in Colorado’s prisons and at the federal supermax, ADX Florence.

James Ridgeway was interviewed by the Dart Center and talked about the murky statistics and exchange of (mis)information about American prisoners in solitary.

Joseph Rodriguez alerted me to this film. Joseph’s own work Re-Entry in Los Angeles appears among the Spring 2012 Dart Society Reports.

The Dart Society Reports distributes journalism about trauma, violence and human rights.